For St. Louis Blues fans, the long wait is over, as the puck is set to drop Saturday, October 8 on the 2011-2012 season. For many fans of the Note, this offseason has been excruciating, waiting for the ice to freeze, the skates to be sharpened, the jerseys to be tied down.
But that wait is now over, and as always, hope springs eternal. From Los Angeles to New York, Chicago to St. Louis to Tampa Bay and Vancouver and points beyond, teams are now eyeing the greatest trophy in professional sports: Lord Stanley’s Cup.
Blues players, management, and fans go into this season with a decidedly different feeling than in the past. Aside from winger David Perron, this team is finally whole. T.J. Oshie, Roman Polak, Andy McDonald, Jaroslav Halak, et all are all healthy. Even Perron is making strides, having rejoined the team earlier this month and beginning the long process of getting himself into game shape.
With a healthy squad on the ice, this team has the makings of a playoff contender. They have talented forwards in Oshie, McDonald, Patrik Berglund, Alex Steen, David Backes, Chris Stewart, and Matt D’Agostini. They have a solid (if vulnerable) defense, with Polak, Barret Jackman, Alex Pietrangelo, Kevin Shattenkirk, Carlo Colaiacovo, and Kent Huskins.
Should Jaroslav Halak play back to form, they have a potentially top 7 goaltender. So things are looking good.
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There are some injuries to report. Jason Arnott had minor eye surgery recently to remove a cataract. All accounts say he came through fine, and should be back on the ice for the opening game. More troubling is the injury to B.J. Crombeen. Expected to be a primary penalty killer and add team toughness, Crombeen broke his shoulder in the last pre-season game, and is sidelined indefinitely. Adding insult to injury, literally, Crombeen’s injury occurred in the last five minutes of the game.
This has opened the door for Evgeny Grachev, acquired from the New York Rangers for a draft pick, to prove he belongs in the NHL.
As of now, the lines appear to be shaking out thus:
Andy McDonald – David Backes – Jaime Langenbrunner
T.J. Oshie – Patrik Berglund – Chris Stewart
Alex Steen – Jason Arnott – Matt D’Agostini
Vladimir Sobotka –Scott Nichol – Ryan Reaves (with Grachev and Chris Porter)
Carlo Colaiacovo – Alex Pietrangelo
Barret Jackman – Kevin Shattenkirk
Kent Huskins – Roman Polak
It will be interesting to see how this team performs. On paper, they have a good balance of offense, defense, grit, and goaltending. With Crombeen’s injury, that could complicated the penalty kill a bit, however, with Oshie, Backes, Langenbrunner and Steen all capable penalty killers, and players like Nichol, Sobotka, and D’Agostini able to step in as well, the hope is the Blues can weather Crombeen’s loss.
The power play should be a top 10 performer this year. With Stewart (who could pot 40 goals this year), Backes, Arnott, Oshie, Steen, D’Agostino, Berglund, McDonald and, eventually, Perron, the Blues have a wealth of forwards to find solid power play pairings. One of those forwards, most likely Steen, will be shifted to the point to play with Pietrangelo, Shattenkirk, and Colaiacovo. Steen had good chemistry with Colaiacovo in the past, so it is likely those two will make up the second power play pairing. Colaiacovo is an underrated player with good skill. He makes perhaps the best outlet pass from the blue line for the Note, is a good skater, and has just about the worst luck of anyone I have ever seen. He appears to be a magnet for weird things. To give you an example, he got hit in the face with a puck and went down with a bad injury. He works his way back to the lineup, and in his first game back, a puck rolled UP his stick and slammed him in the face….AGAIN.
The thought of Pietrangelo and Shattenkirk manning the point on the first power play unit has to be pretty frightening for opposing teams. Pietrangelo has a bomb from the point, and unlike Erik Johnson, Pietro uses it. Shattenkirk is shifty, speedy, and an adept play maker from the point. It is fully conceivable that these two will make the best one-two point combination for the Blues since Al MacInnis and Chris Pronger. Both could go for 50 points this season, and both could be all-stars.
So once again, Blues fans are saying this could be the year. This could be the year Lord Stanley makes an appearance in the Gateway City. After all, it is the beginning of the year. Anything is possible.
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